After delving into several different genres over the course of the past couple years (like the dirty dance funk of Out Hud and the submerged dub electronics of Loscil), Kranky is definitely veering back into the realm that gave them their start with their batch of fall releases for this year. First came the hit-or-miss heavy drone ambience of The Sky's Run Into The Sea by Growing, and now comes Unknown Spin, a re-release of a very limited live CDR recorded on tour in 2002. A group that has been around for over 10 years now, Charlambides started out more in the layered noisy guitar sonic arena but have moved on themselves (at least based on this recording) to improvised minimalist drone pieces mixing guitar, pedal steel, and wordless vocals by singers Christina Carter and Heather Murray.
It's the last two elements mentioned above that actually push this release into a category all its own. Without the vocals of Murray and Carter, Unknown Spin would simply be another meandering guitar drone improvisation that struggles through the molasses, but with the addition of the two, it turns into something seductive and at times even slightly sinister. Such is apparent on the first track, the nearly 30-minute album-titled epic "Unknown Spin." As one guitar weaves back and forth almost haphazardly (sometimes at a funeral pace, at other times quickening like a heartbeat), another guitar lays down steady tonal drones. At points, the guitarwork by itself pulls you into magical places, but it's the vocals that work almost like harpies, drawing you in with lovely, ethereal vocals just before things turn slightly darker.
And yet, even when things are just a little on the spooky side, it works almost hypnotically sometimes, with one that one guitar providing almost metronomic notes while the subtle wails of guitar and vocals wash around you. Sure, it's probably a little on the long side, but music like this works best in long intervals. From there, track lengths get a little shorter, but the release is no less speedy in reaching a destination.
Of the three, nearly 10-minute final tracks, it's Magnolia that works the best, rolling reverbed guitars off towards the horizon as warm guitar drones provide soft tectonics underneath and the vocals by Carter and Murray again add an almost otherworldly quality to the proceedings. The closing track of "Skin Of Rivers" finds the two opening the track by themselves, overlapping and matching tones eerily on ocassion in the stereo field while guitars slowly build from the background. In the end, this is a release that's definitely not for everyone, but if you enjoy minimal drone with a very organic (although definitely not grounded) feel of vocals, this is a slow burner that will wrap you up on cold fall nights.